miscellaneous commentary

MoviePass in 2018

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I signed up for MoviePass shortly after Christmas 2017, and the debit card for my account arrived by mail during the first week of January. So discounting those first few calendar days of January, I’ve been using MoviePass since the beginning of the year.

I set an initial goal to see 52 movies by the end of the year. Without consulting my film binder to verify what was the highest number of theatrical releases I saw in any given year (I have since checked: it was 44 back in 2009), I figured this would set a new record for me. And it would be at an easy pace – one movie per week.

By the end of March, I had seen 20 movies. At that pace, I would see 80 in total by year’s end, well above my original goal. Should I push my goal upwards to 100? Or should I aim higher?

By the end of May, I had seen 15 movies for the month, and my overall total had shot up to 42. If I kept up watching 15 movies per month, I would see 147 by year’s end. Even retreating to a more sensible 10 films per month would put me on pace to see 112 for the year.

Knowing that I didn’t want to set too aggressive of a target, I decided on a new goal of 121, for a specific reason… MoviePass charges $9.95 per month for membership. That’s an annual expense of $119.40. If I saw 120 movies, my per-movie cost would be $0.995. That rounds up to a dollar. I like the idea of spending less than a dollar per movie, so to get past the rounding factor, I would need to see one additional film, to bring my per-movie cost down to $0.987, rounding up to 99 cents.

I’ve established a few rules for using MoviePass and keeping my costs under control.

Rule #1: I bring snacks from home and don’t waste money at the concession stand. I understand this is how theaters make most of their money, but I’m subscribing to MoviePass to save money, not redirect where my money goes.

Rule #2: I don’t see movies that don’t interest me. As much as I’d like to hit that goal of 121, I don’t want to do it by forcing myself to spend time in a theater watching something that bores me, which turns going to the movie into a chore. The deciding factor is usually: if this movie was on Netflix, would I add it to my list to watch later? If yes, then I go ahead and see it now on the theater. This has had an unexpected benefit of reducing the number of films in both my streaming queue and my DVD queue.

It’s worth pointing out that rule #2 has a caveat: if Viet really wants to see something but I’m not keen on it, I’ll still usually go with him to see it. Case in point – “A Wrinkle in Time”

Rule #3: I only go to films I can see within a relatively close distance. There are 4 theaters in downtown Portland (5, if you count the one at the art museum that I haven’t been to yet), 3 within a mile walk of my apartment, and 2 others in the SE part of town that are only 2-3 miles from our apartment. Between those 10 theaters, I can usually see anything I want.

Now that June has ended, my overall total has increased to 55. I’ve set a new record in half the time, though I’ll still need to keep up a brisk pace if I want to hit 121 by the end of December. And this is contingent on MoviePass not kicking the bucket by then, which seems to be an increasing possibility with each passing month. I suppose as long as the company can continue to convince investors to fund their ‘game-changing’ venture, I’ll let the company continue to fund my big screen addiction. 


Written by camcarlson

July 1, 2018 at 7:04 PM

Posted in Cinema

Spring 2018 films in review

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Now that I live where I can see the movies I want to see when they are in theaters, and not wait for them to become available on Netflix or otherwise rent, it would probably be a good idea to write about what I’m seeing on a more regular basis. I’ve already seen several dozen movies since the beginning of the year, which means this entry will likely end up a bit bloated. Going forward, I’ll try to write once a month or every other month.

I received my MoviePass card the first week of January. Naturally, the number of films I’ve seen in the theater has shot up dramatically in comparison to previous years. But I’m going to hold off on a more comprehensive analysis of this experience until the end of June, the half-year point.

So here goes…..

1 undocumented immigrants

“A Quiet Place”

2018 is keeping pace with 2017 in terms of delivering creepy, well-made horror films. Last year had “Get Out” and “It”, and already this year I’ve been amazed by “A Quiet Place” and “Hereditary”. I’d have to say that the former is (so far) my favorite film of the year. It’s a mix of horror and sci-fi, it has a very small cast (I believe a total of 8 people are listed in the end credits), it’s so gripping that people in the theater I saw it in stopped reaching into their bags of popcorn just to stop making any unnecessary noises (you’ll see what I mean when you see it), and it connects by keeping the focus on the family. I read a thoughtful piece online (which I can’t find now) that the film plays as an allegory for the plight of undocumented immigrants. Whether that was John Krasinski’s intention or not, it’s a sensible theory. And the story, rooted in protecting the family, legitimately got me to cry towards the two-thirds mark.

12 hereditary


And then we have this weekend’s new release, “Hereditary”, which I saw with an almost sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Theater. Toni Collette deserves an Oscar for her work as the mother of a family seemingly plagued by some manner of witchcraft after the death of their creepy matriarch at the beginning of the film. ‘Creepy’ is the optimal word to describe this film — for me, I wouldn’t necessarily say I found this movie to be ‘scary’ but it was most definitely ‘creepy’. If that makes sense. I saw the jumps coming, but it was the imagery and facial expressions and tricks of camerawork that had me squirming in my chair. The last 20 minutes or so, the film veers off into hallucinatory spiritual madness, like a mad mixture of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Holy Mountain”. The clicking noise, the spiritual lights that buzz through rooms and hallways, Ann Dowd (more on her later), apparitions and demonic possessions, ants… lots of and lots of dizzying ants…

3 revenge-movie-review-2018


One of the biggest surprises of this spring has been “Revenge”, a French film spoken mostly in English, set in the Moroccan desert, about a young mistress who is abused by her boyfriend and his two male friends, taken out into the wilderness and left for dead. She doesn’t, of course, and then the chase begins. It’s the #metoo version of “Death Wish”. It makes “John Wick” look like “Bambi”. It’s one of the more viscerally violent films I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of violent films. But I found the violence all justified, earned, and well-filmed. I was reminded of two films while watching this: “The Professional” and “Wake in Fright”.

2 annihilation-main


Perhaps the most original film I’ve seen, at least in terms of its imagery, was “Annihilation”. Directed by Alex Garland, who wrote the brilliant films “28 Days Later” and “Ex Machina”. It’s about a rescue party, made up of women, wandering into a strangely quarantined section of Florida swampland in search of a missing army unit, and encountering mutations, equally breathtaking and horrifying, caused by a fallen meteorite embedded in the base of a nearby lighthouse. As the journey progresses, so too do the curiosities of the film’s visual designers. Most memorable were the demon bear that screams like a human, and the incinerated corpse inside the lighthouse.

5 leanonpete

“Lean on Pete”

Two films with similar themes, “Lean on Pete” and “The Rider”, are about young men living hard lives. “Lean On Pete” is about a teenager with virtually no parents in his life, who takes to caring for an aging race horse, eventually running off with the horse in search of a long-lost aunt several states away. Film partially in Portland (I sat next to 2 cast members (w/ non-speaking roles) during an afternoon screening at the Living Room Theater), the film’s plot progresses with an unexpected pace, but by the end it had delivered a satisfying resolution. “The Rider” is about a young man recovering from a severe rodeo accident. He’s been told if he rides again, even a slight injury could kill him, but rodeo culture is so instilling in him (as well as his community) that giving it up feels like a part of him is dead already. Both films showcase beautiful vistas and believable performances from their actors.


“The Rider”

Of the various big budget blockbusters I’ve seen this spring, I suppose I liked “Rampage” the most. It’s a silly film starring the Rock as a zookeeper whose albino ape pal is plagued by a genetically modified green chemical cloud and begins to grow to gigantic proportions. So too do a savage wolf in the Rocky Mountains as well as an alligator from the Everglades. All three creatures are drawn to downtown Chicago by a pulsating signal from atop the Willis Tower. The plot is pretty thin, but the film moves along at a nice clip and thankfully sidesteps a lot of contrivances other films fall for, such as the need to fill in a character’s back story, or pointless romantic intrigue. This film is just one action scene after another. That’s what I’m paying to see… well okay, that’s what MoviePass is paying for me to see.



I did like parts of “Ready Player One” and “Black Panther” and “Deadpool 2” and “Avengers: Infinity War”, especially the scene on Vormir with the cloaked figure who presents Thanos with his challenge to obtain the soul stone. But more or less, these films felt like throwaways — watch them once and move along. It’s been a while since I saw a comic book-inspired movie that I wanted to see more than once to catch its nuances. The first that comes to mind is the second “Captain America” film from 2014.

Speaking of big-budget throwaway films, I saw “Solo: A Disney-Owned Star Wars Themed Movie Franchise” and after walking out of the theater, I had largely forgotten what I had just seen, except for one scene, perhaps the one they worked on the hardest — the Kessel Run, where the Millennium Falcon is nearly destroyed by both a black hole and the ravages of the summa-verminoth. It’s really the highlight of the film, though I’m not sure it’s worth sitting through the rest of the 135-minute film just to see it. Wait for the clip to appear on YouTube.

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“The Death of Stalin”

Other films I liked: “Early Man”, created by Nick Park, the genius behind Wallace & Gromit and the “Shaun the Sheep” series; “The Death of Stalin”, created by Armando Iannucci, the man behind “Veep” and “In the Loop”; “The Strangers: Prey at Night”, a surprisingly effective horror film set in a vacant cabin grounds, occupied only by a naive family and three masked killers; “First Reformed”, Paul Schrader’s latest film which feels like a companion piece to “Taxi Driver” (and notably filmed in the Academy ratio); “A Fantastic Woman”, this year’s winner for the Foreign Language film Oscar; “Isle of Dogs”, because I’ll almost always like stop-motion animation; “Keep the Change”, a cute romance between two challenged adults in New York City; “The House of Tomorrow” about a repressed kid who grew up inside a Geodesic dome run by a elderly accolade of Buckminster Fuller; “Disobedience”, about the conflict between passion and orthodox Jewish beliefs; and “Tully”, an unintentional argument in favor of birth control.

11 first reformed

“First Reformed”

Some worthwhile documentaries include “RBG”, about the Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; “Film Worker”, about Leon Vitali’s 30-year working relationship with Stanley Kubrick; “Mountain”, a travelogue about man’s obsession with mountaineering and what it has done to the allure of our world’s highest peaks; “Human Flow”, a look at migration around the world, filmed by Ai Weiwei; “Always at the Carlyle”, about the famous New York City hotel and its storied history of celebrity guests; “Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquait”, which is actually more about his contemporaries in the NYC art scene during the late seventies and early eighties (I’d say less than 40% of the doc is actually about Basquait); and “Itzhak”, a look at the life and musical talents of violinist and teacher Itzhak Perlman.

Supreme Court Justices Pose For "Class Photo"


And then there are some letdowns… “A Wrinkle in Time”, which I wanted to like, and probably would have if 1) the child actors had been a bit more believable, and 2) there were less giant floating Oprah; “Faces Places”, a French documentary about director Agnès Varda and photographer JR who were having more film doing their bit than I was watching it; both “The Room”, a cult favorite which I admit I had not seen until just a few months ago when I figured I should probably see it before I see “The Disaster Artist” (the latter film I found to be okay, nothing exceptional); and “Proud Mary”, starring Taraji P. Henson, who clearly needs a better agent.

And then we get to “The Endless”, a low-budget sci-fi mess that critics seem to like, much to my confusion, as I didn’t find it interesting, captivating, original or artistic… it was almost 2 hours of hipsters in their 30s living out some summer camp fantasy while being vaguely haunted by some alien supernatural force that messes with their perceptions of time, or something. I thought the film was a mess, and I came this close to walking out before the halfway mark.


“Better Call Saul”

Television series… caught up on the eleventh season of the X-Files, which I also hope is the last as they’ve clearly run out of both original ideas and valid reasons for trodding out Mulder and Scully’s supposed teenage child. The third season of “Better Call Saul” was just as good as the first two, so I’m eagerly looking forward to more. The fifth season of “Silicon Valley” oscillated between prescience and preposterousness. Of the very few network shows we still watch, “Superstore” is still kinda good for some laughs, “Speechless” on ABC remains criminally underrated, and “Bob’s Burgers” may be peaking. HBO introduced “Barry”, starring Bill Hader, an actor/comedian I really like, who I hope gets to do more with his character in season 2 beyond continuously looking like a fish out of water.

Netflix released a technically impressive “Lost in Space” with Parker Posey as the villain which is both a glorious move in casting as well as maddening in that the show’s writers clearly are keeping her in a very 1960s villain mindset, constantly putting her slightly off-set, apparently unseen by everyone else, twirling her figurative mustache and hatching yet another scheme to do… something, I guess. If she survives into season 2, show runners: please do more with her character. Netflix also released the first half of the fourth (and final?) seasons of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” which has a few good lines in each episode but it otherwise getting really sad and worn out, much like “30 Rock” did after season 3. Tina Few just doesn’t know when to quit. She should study up on Ricky Gervais and the UK version of “The Office”.

But regardless. I’m reminded that “Mindhunter” remains the show to beat on Netflix. Everyone loves “Stranger Things”, and I do too, but “Mindhunter” remains my favorite series they’ve created so far. Well, maybe tied with “Stranger Things”.

10 the-leftovers

“The Leftovers”

We got a six-month subscription to HBO through Hulu, so I’ve been able to watch a few series I hadn’t really heard about before. One of them I fell in love with — “The Leftovers”. The basic premise is that one day 2% of the world’s population disappears in an instant. No one knows why (not at first; theories are explored in great detail throughout the three seasons). What I love about the show is how each episode follows a different character in the cast, while the seasons weave the character stories together to tell a compelling narrative. How do people react when their loved ones die (or, in this case, just up and vanish)? How do societies devolve and break down? How do some people find the will to move on, or find purpose in their daily lives, while others lose their minds? Why do dogs no longer trust humans? Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler, Ann Down, and my favorite cast member, Carrie Coon, all perform on a level that I rarely see in movies or television. Since I couldn’t write it any better than he did, let me quote Brian Tallerico’s review of the series:

“The Leftovers” is about that feeling we’ve all had at some point that we’re waiting for something greater—that something is out there to bring us happiness, peace, comfort, whatever, and we just need to figure out how to get it. And yet there’s also that nagging sense that the opportunity to grab that gold ring has passed us by. We’ve missed it. It is about being people so desperately looking for a sign, trying to find purpose in an often purposeless life. It is about destiny vs. control—about believing in yourself vs. giving yourself to a higher power. In other words, this crazy concept is used to make a show that’s about all of us. The Rapture becomes symbolic of any major life-changing event, particularly one in which you experienced loss, and the concern over another great blow coming in the future. It’s about uncertainty, which is something to which we can all relate.

So there it is: three months of film and television watching. Now I’m off to Movie Madness to see what’s on the new release shelf.

12 tully-4


Written by camcarlson

June 10, 2018 at 1:20 PM

Posted in Cinema, Television

Favorite films and television of 2017 (part 3)

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There’s always content from any given year that, try as I might, I do not get to watch until the following year. This year has been no exception, though I have been able to see many more limited-release films theatrically since moving to Portland last September, which saves me from having to wait for them to come out on DVD and pick them up through Netflix. This entry will cover what I’ve seen during the first two months of 2018, which is 90% material created for 2017.


“I, Tonya”

Of the 2017 films I saw these past two months, I really liked “I, Tonya”, “Molly’s Game”, “All the Money in the World”, “Brad’s Status”, “Call Me By Your Name”, “Inxeba (The Wound)” and “Phantom Thread”.


“All the Money in the World”

Having now seen roughly 90-95% of the films I wanted to see for 2017, I feel I can make some kind of list of my favorite films from the year. In my previous entry I declared “Lucky” as my overall favorite of the year, and I stand by that. I pass along this list of my ten favorites, in order of when they were released during the year:

  1. “Get Out”
  2. “Long Strange Trip”
  3. “Oh, Hello On Broadway”
  4. “It”
  5. “Lucky”
  6. “The Florida Project”
  7. “mother!”
  8. “I, Tonya”
  9. “All the Money in the World”
  10. “Phantom Thread”

“Phantom Thread”

With the Academy Awards being handled out this upcoming Sunday, I thought I would make a second list of my preference for each of the nine films nominated for best picture. I was lucky to have seen all nine nominees in the theater (even before the nominations were announced), so my streak of seeing the eventual best picture winner will continue into its twenty-first year.

  1. “Get Out”
  2. “Phantom Thread”
  3. “Dunkirk”
  4. “Darkest Hour”
  5. “Call Me By Your Name”
  6. “Lady Bird”
  7. “The Shape of Water”
  8. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  9. “The Post”



“Get Out”

I really liked the first four on this list, and generally liked the next four, and basically didn’t feel much of anything for “The Post”. It just didn’t captivate me. I feel “The Shape of Water” may be the big winner on Sunday, or at the very least Guillermo Del Toro will be named best director, and I only wish he received this honor for his much better film “Pan’s Labyrinth” or even “Pacific Rim”. It will be akin to Scorsese winning gold for “The Departed” when he made so many other superior films. But that is the nature of Hollywood’s best-known popularity contest, I suppose.


“Inxeba – The Wound”

Other films I liked include “Okja” (a global tale about GMO food production), “Trophy” (big-game hunting vs. conservation), “The Insult” (the fragility of Lebanese/Palestinian relations), “24×36” (documentary about the history of movie posters) and “78/52” (documentary about Hitchcock’s famous shower scene from “Psycho”).


“Call Me By Your Name”

“Good Time” was well written but I think I would have liked it more had it not been so chronically depressing. “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” felt like a mashup of “Spirited Away” and Harry Potter, with a Scottish raccoon that felt too out of place.


“Brad’s Status”

A few disappointments — “The Post”, as I mentioned before… it just didn’t interest me. Spielberg should have teamed up with Aaron Sorkin to pump up this subject matter (freedom of press). Too bad he was busy writing and directing the captivating “Molly’s Game”. I also saw “Downsizing” and couldn’t care for the lead character, this sad sack played by Matt Damon, nor the yappy housecleaner who devotes herself to caring for the sick and informed.

I have seen a few 2018 releases… last night we saw “Annihilation” which I loved for its visual beauty and the creative imagery of horror (the bear creature that barks like a screaming woman). I saw “Hostiles” and “Black Panther” and liked both, though seeing them once was enough.


“Everything Sucks”

On the television front, I watched the second season of “Baskets”, which was better than the first. Netflix material I saw and liked: the first season of “Everything Sucks” and the fourth season of “Black Mirror”, particularly “USS Callister”, Hang the DJ” and the black/white cat-and-mouse tale “Metalhead”.



On the flip side, the fourth season of “Grace and Frankie” convinced me the show is running on fumes (Lily Tomlin looks totally uninterested in most episodes), “Godless” needed a dialogue coach to teach the cast how to speak with a southern accent that doesn’t sound like it came out of a 1950s western, and “Alias Grace” that did something with the lead male character in the final episode that made absolutely no sense and completely ruined the ending of what had been a so-so tale of wrongful prosecution.


“Black Mirror – Hang the DJ”

We’ve also been watching the first two seasons of HGTV show “Good Bones”, a fun mother/daughter team that buys and renovates homes in Indianapolis, and I rewatched every episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, a show that’s unfortunately approaching a Simpsons-level of zombification.


“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

I received my MoviePass card the first week of January and have already seen 12 films, which would have cost me $121.05 in ticket sales (I’m keeping a spreadsheet) but has actually only cost me $10 per month. Right now I’m averaging $1.67 per movie… not too shabby!


“78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”

Written by camcarlson

March 2, 2018 at 1:13 AM

Posted in Cinema

Favorite films (and television) of 2017 (part 2)

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[minor spoilers ahead]

I’ve decided to not wait much longer into the new year to write about what I liked about the second half of last year. I’m sure there’s a better way to phrase that, but let’s stick with it. I don’t want to excessively edit this entry, given the amount of material I have to cover. Below is what I’ve seen and liked…


“The Shape of Water”

Before I begin with 2017, I want to briefly touch on a catch-up film from 2016, “Certain Women”, the latest film by Kelly Reichardt, she who previously made “Old Joy”, “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Wendy and Lucy”. Her latest film is a mixture of three stories, connected to each other in varying ways. The film beautifully captures the look of Montana: wide expanses of land, mountains off in the distance, cold, windy, alone. I was drawn in by one scene in particular — Michelle Williams’ character has come to the home of an old man whose lawn just happens to include the collapsed remains of an old school house, and she would like to buy the sandstone rubble to use in the construction of her new home. The old man (René Auberjonois) is at first standoffish to her offer as the rubble continues to serve a purpose – it reminds him of the past, and his memories. But after a bit of meandering conversation on his part, he brings up bird whistles, and Williams provides the correct response to one of his calls. Having made a connection, they eventually agree on a price, though it is clear from the look on his face that the idea of losing the stones does not sit well with him. It’s a touching scene, and it helps make this film one of my favorite from last year.


“Certain Women”

Of the 2017 films I saw this year, I really liked “A Quiet Passion”, “It”, “Lucky”, “The Florida Project”, “Lady Bird”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “mother!”

Of these films, I most liked “Lucky”. It was the final film to feature Harry Dean Stanton, who passed away last year at age 91. Granted, Stanton spent his many decades in Hollywood as a character actor, having only once before been the lead in a film (“Paris, Texas” back in 1984; a film so great, it’s hard to top). Lucky reminded me of my 92-year old grandfather, in the way that he’s still alive, crotchety but approachable, with his daily routines that keep him plugging away at life. There’s a scene where he sees a doctor (played by Ed Begley Jr.) and the doctor tells him he can’t explain why he’s still alive, but whatever he’s doing seems to be working, so just keep doing it. The film features a cameo by Tom Skerritt as a veteran passing through town; he and Lucky sit next to each other at a diner one day and talk about their service, and Skerritt shares a painful story about WWII. The film also features a cameo by David Lynch as a dapper friend who has lost his tortoise, and gives a heartfelt speech about what friendship means to people (and tortoises) who have lived as long as they have. Usually when I see a movie about elderly people, it’s hard for me to not think about how they’re likely going to die soon, and all the various sentimental feelings that come with that. “Lucky” may be the only film about an elderly man that stares down those thoughts and puts me at ease. Lucky is going to be all right, no matter how he meets his fate.



The film that best transported me into a singular environment was “The Florida Project”, set in the land of cheap motels near Disney World, bright pastel paints, thick white summer clouds, melting ice cream, bored kids with the entire world as their playground, and dead-end teenage moms living in the margins of society. The lead is played by 7-year old Brooklynn Prince, who does better and more convincing acting in this role than nearly everything else I saw last year.



I wonder how different “Boyhood” would have been had it been about a girl (and/or if it had been directed by a female filmmaker). I guess we’ll never get to see “Girlhood”, but if it’s any consolation, we do have “Lady Bird”, the story about a headstrong senior at a Catholic high school who is chomping at the bit to get the hell away from home once she graduates. Saoirse Ronan was 22 when the film was made, which is well enough for playing a 17-year old student — my main gripe with films about students is usually how much older the actors are in comparison to their characters. Laurie Metcalf as the mother who has mastered passive-aggressive relations.


“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“mother!” received mixed reviews, most of which were very strong — people either loved it or hated it. I’m drawn to movies that elicit that kind of passion, and in this case, I definitely liked this film. Darren Aronofsky has made a career tearing his characters apart (“Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Wrestler”, “Black Swan”). “mother!” takes this propensity to the extreme. Some people didn’t like how the film was made, lots of close-up shots of Jennifer Lawrence either from the front or behind, but I thought it helped disorient the audience to the surroundings, preventing anyone from feeling too comfortable with the film’s setting (filmed almost entirely inside of a rehabilitated house). It reminded me of the disorienting feeling of watching “The Blair Witch Project” and how it helped create a feeling of unease. Much has been written about what the film is suppose to mean — it’s rich in allegory — so since it’s already been said, likely better, by others, I won’t waste time trying to give my own two cents.



Other films I liked include “Baby Driver”, “The Big Sick”, “Blade Runner 2049” (though the theater I saw it at turned the volume up waaay too loud), “Darkest Hour”, “Free Fire”, “A Ghost Story”, “In This Corner of the World”, “Ingrid Goes West”, “It Comes At Night”, “The Shape of Water”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, “Super Dark Times”, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “War for the Planet of the Apes”.


“Blade Runner 2049”

A few disappointments — “Personal Shopper”, the latest film pairing between Kristen Stewart and director Olivier Assayas. Perhaps I’m not in tune to appreciate French quasi-horror films (at least not modern ones), or perhaps I appreciated Stewart and Assayas’ previous collaboration too much (“Clouds of Sils Maria”).


“Clouds of Sils Maria”

I also didn’t care for “The Beguiled”, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (the visuals were top-notch but the dialogue simply awful) or “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (the dialogue/delivery and basic premise of this film, ugh) or Cate Blanchett’s “Manifesto” from 2015 (visually interesting but rendered boring by its overbearing politics).



“Shin Godzilla” was the most silly fun I had watching a movie in a while. A perfect blend of modern CGI and rubber monster suits. The 1983 French documentary “Sans Soleil” was so captivating, when it was over I immediately watched it a second time.


“Shin Godzilla”

I liked “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” from Ang Lee (a 2016 release), and would have liked to have seen it on a theater screen when it was screened in 4K HDR 60fps.


“Lady Bird”

Netflix continues to put out quality original content. Last year they released a few good movies: “Mudbound”, “First They Killed My Father”, “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” which *finally* gave Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller two great roles to work with. It’s strange seeing either of them doing quality work that doesn’t leave me feeling rubbed over with a cheese grater, but both of them? Santa came early this year.


“Big Mouth”

Speaking of Netflix, I discovered “Big Mouth”, my new favorite comedy and animated series, and “Mindhunter”, a brilliant psychological drama created by Joe Penhall with David Fincher directing the first two and last two episodes.


“Ash vs. Evil Dead”

I also fell in love with “Ash vs. Evil Dead”, or at least the first two seasons available. Not only did they recreate the cabin from the original two films but they brought back Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and Henrietta (Ted Raimi inside the body suit) and Ash’s severed hand, and Xena (Lucy Lawless) and created some new creepy deadites, including the reality-shifting Eligos. Groovy!


“A Quiet Passion”

I also liked the first season of “Dark”, the second season of “Stranger Things”, the third season of “Schitt’s Creek”, the fourth season of “Bojack Horseman” and the HBO limited series “Show Me A Hero”, which should be required viewing for all “West Wing” fans. Supposedly “Portlandia” is over after 7 seasons and it didn’t feel like they did anything special at the end of the last episode, which was a bit of a letdown. I puttered through the first few seasons of “Community” on Hulu before skipping ahead to the last couple episodes of the sixth season, and now await the movie. I also discovered what may be the only season of “Tornado Hunters” which airs on CMT of all channels. It’s silly fun.

Now that I live in Portland, I have access to many movie theaters, and unlike Cedar Falls, they’re not all owned by the same corporation. Which means I can now sign up for MoviePass. A flat $10 per month and I can see one big-screen movie per day. That plus being in close proximity to the world’s best video rental store with about 90,000 titles, and I’m truly living in a golden age of cinema.

Written by camcarlson

January 7, 2018 at 4:54 PM

Posted in Cinema

Living in Portland

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Thoughts on the first six weeks of living in Portland…

  • People are generally polite, much in the same way folks in Cedar Falls are. I’m relieved by that, as I expected the majority of big-city folk to come off as stand-offish if not downright rude.
  • Prices are generally the same, though gas is about 50 cents higher (for non-ethanol). As I live a mile east of I-5, I have noticed that gas stations closer to the interstate can command prices 25 to 50 cents higher per gallon than stations further east, even amongst the same chains.
  • I live within a mile of five grocery stores. The closest, Fred Meyer, is a mere three block walk from our apartment. It is similar to Wal-Mart in that it is split between groceries and home goods. The interior is much better designed, it is far more clean, and aside from super-busy weekends, there is less anxiety being there.
  • On the note of super-busy weekends… everything is busy on weekends. Which makes sense. But when you live in a metro area of one/two million people, foot traffic is basic stores and shopping areas is downright insane. So far I have done my damnedest to only shop on weekdays, around midday if I can help it.
  • The variety of bars and restaurants is far greater than anywhere in the midwest outside of Chicago, though so far we have found more so-so places than we have places we want to visit again. A few standouts: McMenamins for a tasty burger, Pho MeKha on Sandy Ave for pho, Angelina’s (downtown) for gyros, and My Father’s Place for an afternoon beer and a basket of crinkle-cut fries.
  • The variety of movie theaters is initially exciting, until I realize most of the larger multiplexes are owned by Regal and charge an arm & leg for tickets, even for matinees. It has taken a bit of sleuthing to find a few cheap theaters, but they exist — the best one (so far) being the Laurelhurst, a mere mile-walk from my apartment, which charges $3 for matinees and $4 for evening tickets. They also serve beer and wine, and are a 21-and-over establishment (after 6 p.m.). Also work checking out are the Academy Theater ($4 and BOGO Tuesdays), the McMenimans Kennedy School Theater ($4), the 5th Avenue Cinema, student-run through PSU ($5), OMSI’s IMAX theater ($7) and the Hollywood Theater a mile to the east ($9), which occasionally screens 70mm prints.
  • The weather was warm the first month – mostly sunny with temps in the 60s and 70s. November brought cooler temps (40s through lower 50s during the day, low 40s at night), more cloud coverage and occasional rain. When it rains, it’s light, and only lasts for a short while. The weather forecast may show a chance of rain every day for the week, but it’s usually nothing my hooded jacket can’t handle. Only one day over the past six week has it rained all day long.
  • We are about a 90-minute drive from the Pacific Ocean. Traffic along Highway 101 this time of year is not as heavy as I expected, though I’m sure trips taken next spring and summer will end up with more gridlock.
  • Driving through the forests (yes, Oregon has forests, in the mountains no less) is an absolute treat. Lots of twists and turns, ups and downs, with the occasional scenic vista off to the side of the roadway.
  • Amtrak serves the Pacific Northwest capably enough that taking it north to Seattle (a 3 hour 45 minute trip) is the better option versus the 3 hours spent driving on Interstate 5, which is a constant state of disrepair and congestion.
  • We live half a block from a Falls Avenue-like commercial area, mostly small shops, restaurants, a few offices peppered here and there, and on-street parallel parking. Barber shops, dance studios, pet stores, a tiki bar, wine bars, whiskey bars, Thai food (forgot to mention above in my list of standout restaurants: Sweet Basil on 32nd has amazing fried rice w/ mango and avocado, and their lobster balls are the best appetizer I’ve had here thus far), bakeries, tailors, a sewing studio, tattoo parlors, a mattress store, a post-office annex that handles UPS/FedEx/USPS packages, a Goodwill, a few chain places (Subway, Qdoba, Village Inn), et cetera.
  • I have yet to find a substitute for either the Panther Lounge (though My Father’s Place comes close) or the Lava Lounge (Hale Pele, a half-block away, has several affordable happy hour options, but otherwise it’s WAY too crowded for my tastes, even during the week.
  • The best place for a margarita, ironically, is right next door, at the Cha Cha Cha, which has $5 happy hour margs every day of the week. They taste different… no, better, than the margs at the Lava Lounge. So I’m happy. But no plastic monkeys on the glass, so that’s a bummer.
  • Recycling is a big thing in Portland. Our building has two garbage bins, two recycling bins for paper, plastic and aluminum, and a bin for glass.
  • There is no gas hookup in our building. The stovetop/oven and heaters in the living room and bedroom are all electric.
  • Portland has a homeless problem, exasperated by an affordable housing crisis. It is an everyday occurrence to find folks sleeping curled up in business doorways and/or digging through waste baskets for empty cans. On more than one occasion I’ve walked by someone urinating in public, in broad daylight. The second time it happened, I literally had to leap over a growing puddle of piss sliding down the sidewalk. How pleasant.
  • One way folks have temporarily/halfway avoided homelessness is by parking vans/RVs on residential streets and sleeping in them at night. I’m getting pretty good at telling which vehicle don’t belong to the houses they’re parked in front of.
  • Portland loves mass transit. When I need to go somewhere more than a mile away, I can use my Hop card to tag a ride on a city bus (which passes by every 15 minutes from early morning to late at night, a refreshing change of pace from the Cedar Valley’s lame 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. once-an-hour offer). Either side of the Willamette River offers street car service (one route clockwise, one route counter-clockwise, and one route strictly north-south on the west side). Max lines also connect downtown with the outlying suburbs and the airport to the north. My Hop card lets me ride the bus once for $2.50, the street car once for $2, or unlimited all day for $5. It’s smart enough to know when I’ve already ridden earlier in the day so I never overpay in any 24-hour period.
  • Because I walk 50% of the time and take the bus or streetcar 40%, I’ve significantly cut down on driving. Ever since getting my Oregon plates, I’ve driven approximately once per week. I’ve only had to put gas my car twice since moving here.
  • Because the chance of even a light about of rain on any given day is about 90%, the odds of seeing a rainbow in the sky is also about 90%.
  • Before it got cold outside, I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice any flies or mosquitoes outside. Ants, yes.
  • At least in the nearby 3-6 block radius, most folks have eschewed lawns for moss and tree-covered landscapes. I live in a neighborhood that has taken its landscaping cues from the Mandalay.
  • Our apartment building, while beautiful, only provides us one large window facing east and one large window facing west. Neither window has more than a two-inch sill. So we are mostly without houseplants while we live in our current digs. So it goes. Viet’s monkey plant remains outside our door for the time being.
  • For the first time in nearly 11 years, I have a shower with a tub. But the stopper in the drain is jammed open, so I can’t close it to take a bath.
  • I discovered the coolest video store in the history of the universe, only a couple miles from where we live. Their selection is amazing, their method for organizing their titles is whimsically delightful, and they recently completed a fundraiser to merge management with the local Hollywood Theater, staving off a shutdown and sale of their inventory. Long live Movie Madness! I’m going to rent so much weird shit from them in the years to come.
  • I cannot find a single store that will sell me Brach maple nut goodies.
  • I have only hung a couple items on the wall so far, one of them our travel map of the U.S. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for with the other pictures. Something to tackle this week I suppose.
  • We made the right decision to move here.

Written by camcarlson

November 14, 2017 at 2:07 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Never tell me the odds

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Here’s how “Rogue One” stack up against the other Star Wars films in terms of box office receipts. The below list is domestic (North American) box office returns, adjusted for inflation.

  1. Star Wars (1977, plus 1982 and 1997 re-releases) – $1,540,734,500
  2. The Force Awakens (2015) – $935,195,600
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, plus 1982 and 1997 re-releases) – $848,609,400
  4. Return of the Jedi (1983, plus 1985 and 1997 re-releases) – $813,613,900
  5. The Phantom Menace (1999, includes 2012 re-release) – $781,199,400
  6. Rogue One (2016) – $532,177,324
  7. Revenge of the Sith (2005) – $513,157,600
  8. Attack of the Clones (2002) – $462,502,300
  9. The Clones Wars (2008) – $42,360,400

First off, should “The Clone Wars” even be considered? I think it should, given the now-existence of “Rogue One” as another filler movie between two official ‘episodes’ in the series. To be fair, “The Clones Wars” was released more as a plug for the television series on Cartoon Network between 2008 and 2014, chronicling the events between Episodes II and III, than as a standalone episode.

As shown in the list above, the original trilogy clearly does very well compared to the other films, aside from the latest episode. The original 1977 film made more than 50% more than “The Force Awakens” did two years ago, though it should be noted that “A New Hope” was re-released two times and “The Force Awakens” has (so far) only been in theaters once. Let’s see where they stand 10 to 20 years from now.

The mid-range ranking for “The Phantom Menace” can be attributed in part to pent-up demand for a new Star Wars films after 16 years, helped by the 1997 re-releases of the original trilogy. As an aside, I saw all three films during this re-release while I was in high school, and having owned and watched the 1995 VHS releases, I was quick to note the various non-subtle changes Lucas had implemented in each film. *shakes head*

“Rogue One” is at sixth place, just barely above “Revenge of the Sith”. Not bad, but not overly great. Given that the first film in each trilogy seemed to make more money than the two films that followed it, one could assume that the upcoming “The Last Jedi” and any subsequent non-episode Star Wars film won’t be making as much as “The Force Awakens” or “Rogue One”, respectively. That’s my speculation.

I also wanted to compare the films via their worldwide box office receipts, but couldn’t find reliable numbers for the 1982 re-releases of “Star Wars” or “The Empire Strikes Back”, nor the 1985 re-release of “Return of the Jedi”, nor the brief IMAX run of “Attack of the Clones”. But I could find foreign receipts for the rest, and used the same inflation rates I used for the domestic ticket sales, and came up with the following:

  1. Star Wars – $3,027,564,982
  2. The Force Awakens – $2.065,018,988
  3. The Phantom Menace – $1,786,351,047
  4. The Empire Strikes Back – $1,763,990,825
  5. Return of the Jedi – $1,355,979,402
  6. Revenge of the Sith – $1,145,374,925
  7. Rogue One – $1,055,724,829
  8. Attack of the Clones – $966,762,247
  9. The Clone Wars – $82,237,171

“The Phantom Menace” jumped up from fifth to third place, given the increased importance in foreign movie theaters between 1983 and 1999. In other words, the original trilogy made more of their money here in North America compared to later films in the series. Totally understandable given the huge growth in multiplexes, especially in Asia, during the past quarter century.  It’s no surprise that “Rogue One”, knowing it needs to play to more than just a white/American audience, features two Chinese actors in prominent roles (Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen), along with other non-white cast actors (Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, et al).

On this list, “Rogue One” falls slightly behind “Revenge of the Sith” but remains slightly ahead of “Attack of the Clones”. Not a very enviable position, all three being near the bottom of the heap (aside from that slacker “The Clone Wars”). My thought on this is, going back to the point on how the first film in the original trilogy and the prequels did better business than the subsequent two films, is that audience demand had been made, and tampered off in the following years.

There was a three year gap between the films of the original trilogy and the prequels, whereas only 12 months between “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”. Three years felt like a good amount of time to build up a bit of demand and anticipation for the next installment. So I wonder if audiences at some point in the near future will get fed up with a new Star Wars film being fed to them on an annual basis. Eventually, Disney will start to see diminished returns on their $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilms, though they have clearly made most of that back with their first two Star Wars releases. But one has to wonder, how long can that last?


Written by camcarlson

August 16, 2017 at 6:53 PM

Favorite films of 2017 (part 1)

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[minor visual spoilers ahead]

While I have seen several films in theaters and a couple dozen more on DVD, the bulk of the first half of this year has been playing catch-up on older films (mostly 2016 releases) and the plethora of serialized shows on Netflix and Hulu. Here’s what I’ve seen and liked…


“Get Out”

Of the 2016 films I saw this year, I really liked “The Founder”, “Gold”, “Lion”, “Moana”, “Paterson” and “The Red Turtle”. “Jackie” was a good character study that, in my amateur opinion, captured the look and feel of the early 1960s very well. I saw Martin Scorsese’s latest film “Silence”, and liked it, but if it holds up like most of his other films have over the years, I’ll probably like it more, a lot more, as time goes on. He’s always been very good in that way, creating art that grows in value over time.



2017 films that I’ve really enjoyed include “Dunkirk”, “Get Out”, “Split”, as well as Amazon’s Grateful Dead doc series “Long Strange Trip”, Netflix’s WW2 doc series “Five Came Back” and their comedy special “Oh, Hello on Broadway”.


“The Red Turtle”

I’ve seen several superhero movies so far this year: “Logan” and “Wonder Woman” (both very good), “Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2” (fun, more of the same) and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (also fun, but 6 Spider-Man movies in 15 years is a little much).


“Long Strange Trip”

“Kong: Skull Island” was fun to watch and I get why it was regurgitated (to tie in with a future Godzilla crossover), so I’m glad they put a new spin on the origin story. “Ghost in the Shell” boasts some impressive visual effects but it pales to the 1995 anime version. “The Lost City of Z” had a great premise but it petered out near the end of its overly long 141-minute run time. “Alien: Covenant” was a bit of a letdown… it did not feel like “Prometheus” at all, which I was hoping for, and opted for too much darkness and gruesome violence.


“Oh, Hello on Broadway”

A pair of 90s documentaries — “Oklahoma City” from PBS chronicles the rise of fringe hate groups that culminated in the 4/19/95 bombing. And “Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine” revels in rebel skateboard culture but, like the publication, it meandered from one thread to another with no clear scope or purpose in mind. In hindsight, that’s the perfect approach to this doc.



I caught the 1981 oddity “Roar”, starring real-life mother-daughter pair Tippi Hendren and Melanie Griffith. The film took 11 years to make, was never released theatrically stateside, and at one point during production Griffith was mauled by a lion and required 50 stitches to her face. The director Noel Marshall (also the co-star) developed gangrene from his injuries, and the film’s cinematographer had his scalp literally lifted off his head in one animal attack. Between 70-100 (if not more) crew members were injured in some way… wild stuff!

I'm Going on a Date With Josh's Friend!

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Of those plethora of serialized shows I’ve seen, I liked “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (seasons 1-2), “Better Call Saul” (2), “Shameless” (1-6), “Bloodline” (1-3), “Glow” (1) and “Westworld” (1), as well as “The People vs. O.J. Simpson – American Crime Story”. Oh, and the current (seventh) season of “Game of Thrones”.


“Game of Thrones”

Some shows felt like their latest seasons are running out of new ideas, such as “Halt and Catch Fire” (3), “Veep” (6), “Grace and Frankie” (3) and “Silicon Valley” (4). The fifth season of “Orange if the New Black” seemed to breathe new life into a series that had left me feeling meh after season four ended, so I’m glad for that. Some shows, like “House of Cards” (5) and “Mr. Robot” (2), I’m still watching (for now) just to see where the overall story goes.

Written by camcarlson

August 7, 2017 at 3:54 PM

Posted in Uncategorized